Willow Smith and brother Jaden both dropped albums last month. Their parents Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, while still wildly famous for their acting roles and Pinkett-Smith’s Red Table Talks, aren’t really presences in the music scene anymore-- give or take an Aladdin track or two. However, while Pinkett-Smith has never been musician herself, she has deep ties to one of hip-hop’s biggest stars, the legendary West Coast icon Tupac Shakur. Their friendship started at an art school in Baltimore and was a thorny but passionate one. It ended on a sour note before he died.
Their history has come up a lot in interviews with Pinkett-Smith, up til present day, and has continued to fuel much speculation. Here we explore what went down, and why they meant so much to each other.
Pinkett-Smith sat for a long ranging interview with Howard Stern in 2015 that touched on several subjects, but the topic that garnered the most buzz was when he asked about her relationship with Shakur. Stern begins by pointing out that the two were close, and that Shakur “wasn’t the gangster that we all think he was.” Pinkett Smith confirms this and the two discuss Shakur’s mother’s involvement with the Black Panthers. “He was a revolutionary without a revolution,” Pinkett-Smith says, “and that revolution transferred on to a whole other thing.”
Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tupac Shakur, 1996 - Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage/Getty Images
Stern pivots quickly to their relationship, which Pinkett-Smith says was never romantic. “Now, being older, I have more of an understanding about what that was between us,” she says. “You have two young people who have very strong feelings, but there’s no sexual chemistry at all,” she goes on. “If Pac and I had any sexual chemistry we might have killed each other because we were both so passionate,” she says, “it was hard enough just us being friends, we had a very volatile relationship.”
As time moved on, the two both became successful artists, with Tupac’s rap career skyrocketing him to legendary status and Pinkett-Smith’s acting career taking off. They reportedly drifted apart and began to argue. Pinkett-Smith told Stern that after Tupac’s first time in jail, “once he came out, you know, he changed quite a bit.” Stern asks what caused the ultimate rift in their friendship. Pinkett-Smith answers that she “wasn’t in agreement with the direction that he was taking. I just told him...it was a destructive direction. A very scary direction.”
Tupac took issue with what he saw was a shift in Pinkett-Smith’s character as well. “He felt as though I had changed, I got Hollywood. [That] I had gone soft.” She offers retroactive understanding, going on to say that “at that particular point in time that mentality was part of his survival for that moment, and it was actually a mentality he started to come out of before he was murdered.”
The actress has taken issue with the lifestyle and lyrics of iconic west coast rappers that weren’t Pac too. She famously called Eazy-E out for his misogynistic lyrics. In a clip of an unnamed talk show she posted on her Instagram she tells the interviewer, “I was telling him that before I met him today, I would have thought that he was a woman-hater because of his music that he writes.” She holds him accountable, saying “He, owning his own record company, can make a change starting from there within his community to uplift us.” “I do say nice things about sisters,” says E. Not willing to let him off easy, Pinkett-Smith responds, “You’ve gotta do it on the record.” While she claims friendship with E, there isn't much of a record of their relationship outside of a few pics of the young stars together. She’s never expressed a closeness to him or anything remotely resembling her intense love for the friend she eventually lost.
Eazy-E portrait shot, 1993 - Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
When the Pac biopic All Eyez on Me came out in 2016, Pinkett-Smith took to twitter to share her feelings. She criticized what she saw as a false portrayal of her friendship with Shakur, writing “my relationship to Pac is too precious to me to for the scenes in All Eyez on Me to stand as truth.” The movie features a scene of Pac reading his poem "Jada" to the actress in high school. However, she claims she wasn’t aware of such a poem until the posthumous publishing of his poetry collection The Rose that Grew From Concrete.
It’s clear in every interview Pinkett-Smith gives about her relationship with Pac that despite the differences that ultimately divided them, she misses him greatly and deeply cherished their friendship. She told Stern that though she doesn’t feel guilt for not being in touch with Tupac before he died, she feels “sadness for not having the opportunity to tell him that I loved him, but I know he knew that.” She once posted a picture on twitter of the two hugging with the simple caption “i miss him.”
It seems as though the troubled Pac found in Pinkett-Smith a friend who listened, cared and challenged him when the rest of the world took him at face value, and in Pac she found an artist worth caring for so strongly that their relationship is still discussed-- and by Pinkett-Smith held closely--long after Pac left us.
She closes out her interview with Stern by praising her friend. “He left a very strong and powerful mark,” she says. “People are still inspired by him.”